Where have you gone, Brian Bersticker?

August was Mediocre Month at We Rite Goode...where in the spirit of things, we were only devoting two weeks to celebrating lousiness. And sure, the month's over, but what's the point of being mediocre if we actually followed through on time? Here's another of the awful-yet-great athletes who made us grin or, more likely, groan. I'll let Doctor Dribbles take it away...--Crucifictorious

It was March Madness, 1998, and skinny forwards were totally in style.

Kevin Garnett had just signed his record deal with the Timberwolves. Dirk Nowitzki was a few months away from entering the league. High schoolers Darius Miles and Tyson Chandler were already being eyed by eager NBA executives.

And that's when I saw him.

Entering an ACC tournament game in its waning moments, UNC's Brian Bersticker just took NC State's lunch money. Yeah, it was garbage time, and Carolina was killing State; Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter were long out of the game. But Bersticker, the lankiest ACC big man I'd ever seen, played like he belonged with the first team; in the game's last three minutes, he threw down three dunks (hanging on the rim and taunting the State crowd after one slam) and canned a free throw.

Seven points in only three minutes!?! My mind raced with the 40-minute projections. Clearly, Bersticker was a threat to break Pete Maravich's records, if he only got some playing time. I did a little research on the player; according to my friends at UNC, he was athletic, not to mention had shooting range. With Jamison, Carter, and three key seniors leaving the team after the season, surely Bersticker was the next UNC star-in-waiting.

Unfortunately, despite my hoping and wishing the next four years, it would never happen. Those three brilliant minutes fixed what Bersticker could be in my mind forever. But in those three brilliant minutes, Bersticker, as they say, may have been flying above his pay grade.

As a 6'10", 205-pound high school basketball player in Virginia Beach, he had been overlooked by the major programs--and for good reason. Before his senior year, Bersticker hadn't been dominant (never named to his all-district team) or, foreshadowing his future challenges, able to stay healthy. But a successful summer on the AAU tour attracted schools like Kentucky and Georgia Tech, and the resulting recruiting stampede led one local newspaper to dub Bersticker "the best player you've probably never heard of."

Once at Carolina, Bersticker was to become a mediocre backup center, albeit one with a few moments of brilliance. As a sophomore, he played crucial minutes in the 1999 ACC Tournament--first turning the tide against Georgia Tech, then dunking off a full-court bomb from Ademola Okaluja to seal a win over Maryland. Entering his junior year, the future looked rosy; Bersticker kicked off the year with seven points and seven boards against USC, then put up 12 points (six of seven shooting) in the Maui Invitational championship game. But after scoring four quick points in one minute against the College of Charleston, the team's sixth game, Bersticker broke his foot and things were never quite the same after that.

Following his redshirt year, Bersticker returned to the team but was buried by new coach Matt Doherty well behind Brendan Haywood and averaged a career-low 1.5 ppg. While there were hopes that Bersticker's fifth year on campus would be his breakout opportunity--and it statistically was his strongest season (4.0 ppg)--the year was a nightmare, as Doherty led the Tar Heels to an embarrassing 8-20 team record. Bersticker had to take the court Senior night knowing that he was closing out the worst season in the program's history. What an unfortunate way to go out for a player who, by all accounts, was a real good guy.

And that's where Bersticker's career took a weird turn. In writing about our favorite mediocre players, we were supposed to stick to the pros--and from this website, I'm guessing Bersticker gave it a go overseas. But as Deadspin noted, Bersticker ended up working for UNC's ticket office, selling passes to games. Maybe this was a good move; I understand that Bersticker throwback jerseys can now be spotted around the Smith Center. In some ways, Bersticker the ticket-seller is more beloved by the Carolina community than Bersticker the unexceptional player.

Of course, I wasn't the only one to fall for Bersticker--as a player, the guy apparently had his own BerstickerGrrl fan club and was once a write-in candidate for UNC student body president--but as a Maryland fan going ga-ga over our rival's backup center, I had to be one of the strangest. And I'll always wish he had more of those out-of-nowhere games, even if they came against the Terps.

In his post about Ledell Eackles, Crucifictorious complained that there are no Eackles highlights video on the 'net. Hey, at least he found the guy taking a shot. The best I could do was the brief glimpse of Bersticker in action about 1:10 into the clip, as he works on an ill-fated pick-and-roll.

For Bersticker's sake, I wish I could do better. But maybe it's fitting that I can't.

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posted by Doctor Dribbles @ 09:03,


At September 4, 2007 at 1:00 PM, Blogger Jarrett Carter said...

The only thing that Trumps a Bersticker memory is a memory of Dante Calabria

At September 4, 2007 at 7:48 PM, Blogger Crucifictorious said...

Heh. At least Calabria was a starter. Bersticker falls somewhere between Neil Fingleton and Serge Zwikker on the list of all-time Carolina greats...which is to say, not so high up.

And if Bersticker deserves a post, Dr. Dribbles, then I want to see one for C.C. Harrison too. Now that was a player.

At September 5, 2007 at 1:31 AM, Blogger Doctor Dribbles said...

Jarrett, thanks for the thought. Mediocre players, I can do. But I'm not enough of a writer to memorialize a player with the flowing mane of Dante C.

Cruc, I'm thinking of a paeon to Mike Mardesich. Maybe I can do an entire series on forgotten ACC backup centers...

At September 5, 2007 at 3:04 PM, Blogger Jarrett Carter said...

"Maybe I can do an entire series on forgotten ACC backup centers..."

Please oh please allow me to do the Maryland alums. There are so many.

At September 6, 2007 at 12:17 AM, Blogger DigitalHeadbutt said...

"Maybe I can do an entire series on forgotten ACC backup centers..."

I wonder how long it will take for Shavlik Randolph, Byron Sanders and Damion Grant to join such a pantheon.

At March 10, 2011 at 1:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You left out the best part of the Bersticker dunks in the State game. The crotch grabbing, hanging on the rim celebration!

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